Authors: Gillian Larkin
For Pauline and Nanette
Front cover by the amazing San at:
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A Deadly Lesson
Grace raced into the newly opened storage locker. She was vaguely aware of
cries of outrage behind her as she ran forwards.
crouched down in front of the distraught figure of a teenage girl. The girl was
pressed into the corner of the unit. Her knees were pulled to her chest and her
shaking arms were wrapped around them, as if trying to draw them even closer to
ran down the girl’s face and she was crying out, “Stop! Stop!”
put her hand out towards the girl, but before she could say a word she was
pulled to her feet. A burly-looking man glared at her and barked, “No one is
allowed in before the bidding starts! Out! Now!”
...” Grace began.
man was in no mood for listening. He roughly pulled Grace out of the unit and
placed her in front of the grim-faced auctioneer.
looked back into the unit. The girl had gone. Grace then looked at the
auctioneer. Her breath caught. She had never seen him looking so serious.
Sylvester Sylver, the man who was leading today’s auction, frowned as he
studied Grace. In a low voice he said, “Grace, what on earth are you doing? You
know the rules, you know you’re not allowed inside a unit before you buy it.
Would you like to explain yourself?”
...” Grace said. Words seemed to be having trouble coming from her mouth today.
She looked straight in front of her. The other bidders glowered at her. She
gulped. She could feel the hate coming from them. She glanced at Frankie, her
brother. He had his back turned to her. He must be devastated at what she’d
Sylvester prompted. “Grace, you’d better give me a good reason for not throwing
you out of the auction.”
thought suddenly came to Grace. She forced a smile on her face as she brightly
declared, “A mouse! I saw a little mouse! It was trapped under a box at the
back of the unit. It looked frightened. I’m so sorry, Sylvester, but I couldn’t
let it suffer.”
the mention of a mouse some of the braver bidders took a few steps backwards.
washed over Sylvester’s face. “A mouse? Grace, you’re too kind-hearted. Because
you’re so wonderful I’ll forgive you this time. Just don’t ever do that again.”
were a few jeers from the bidders. Sylvester held his hands up to placate them.
He said, “All right, no need to turn nasty. Grace was doing a good deed but I
will ban her from bidding on this unit. Okay? Now, settle down and we’ll begin.
Who will start me off with a bid?”
gave Grace a quick wink, she gave him a small smile of thanks and muttered,
her head down she walked towards Frankie, he still had his back to her. She
thought about the teenage girl that she’d just seen. Grace knew she wasn’t
supposed to go into the lockers but there was something so heart breakingly sad
about that girl that she hadn’t been able to stop herself. She’d wanted to tell
the girl that she could see her, and that she’d be able to help her – if
that’s what the girl wanted.
sighed. Seeing ghosts in these storage units was hard enough, but not being
able to tell anyone else about it was even harder.
tapped Frankie on the shoulder. She wished she could say to him, ‘Hey, sorry
about that but I saw a ghost and I had to run in and talk to her.’ And then
Frankie could say, ‘I understand. Let’s buy that unit and then we can help that
was never going to happen.
ignored her tap so Grace tapped even harder. No response. Grace walked round
and stood in front of him. Frankie swiftly turned so that his back was facing
her again. Grace grabbed his arm and pulled him to face her.
recoiled at the look of disgust on his face. In a quiet voice he said, “How
could you? How could you embarrass me like that? I’m so ashamed of you.”
opened her mouth to speak. Frankie’s hand shot up, palm facing her. “Go away. I
don’t want to talk to you.”
felt a sudden heat on her cheeks and her throat felt tight. Shame swept down
her body and she began to tremble. She had to get away!
turned away from Frankie and looked around the storage unit. The van! Grace
raced towards it, flung open the passenger door and threw herself in. Warm
tears gushed down her cheeks and huge sobs of pain escaped from her. She sunk
lower in her seat, she felt like she wanted to be invisible.
suddenly stopped. These weren’t her reactions. Frankie had spoken to her much
more harshly than that before, and she’d given him just as good back. Grace
wiped her wet cheeks. She was experiencing the ghost’s feelings. A feeling of
overwhelming shame and of needing to run away. Oh! That poor girl! What had
happened to her?
knew without a doubt that she had to help her. She’d helped other ghosts in the
past, particularly ones that had been murdered. Had that girl been murdered?
Did she need Grace’s help?
sat up straight. She looked in the mirror. She shrugged, she’d have to do. She
put her hand on the handle of the door, a renewed sense of purpose gripping
her. There was something about that girl that was crying out to her.
swivelled her body towards the door. And screamed.
face stared back at her.
Bob grinned at Grace and opened the door for her.
hand was over her heart. “Crikey, you scared the life out of me.” Grace got out
of the van and smiled up at her friend. Big Bob was an old friend of her dad’s.
They had toured antique fairs together. Big Bob had been a great help when she
and Frankie had first started working in the storage auction business. And he’d
been a great listener whenever Grace had needed to talk about her mum and dad.
Bob gave her a bear-like hug. He released her and said, “You’re looking well,
Grace. I haven’t seen you for a while. How are you? And how’s that brother of
shrugged. “I’m fine. I’m working full-time at the shop now. I couldn’t face
going back to my teaching job, not after ... you know.”
Bob said, “I know. Losing loved ones always makes you re-evaluate your life.
Are you enjoying working at the shop? Have you refrained from killing Frankie?”
about,” Grace said with a grin. Her grin dropped. “I think he’s the one who
feels like killing me at the moment.”
Bob let out a bark of laughter. “I saw what happened! I can’t believe people
took it so seriously. I’ve known this crowd a long time and you wouldn’t
believe the things they get up to when they think no one’s looking. Did you
really see a mouse?”
didn’t like lying to Big Bob. Maybe one day she’d tell him about her ability to
see ghosts. She thought he’d be more understanding than Frankie. She said, “I
saw a poor creature of some sort.”
Bob studied her for a moment and then nodded. He indicated his head towards
where the auctions were taking place. “Whatever you saw put the other bidders
off. No one wanted that unit. There was only one person who was brave enough to
bid on it.” Big Bob held a key towards Grace. “I bought it on your behalf. It
cost me all of ten pounds. And no, I don’t want that ten pounds back from you.
Call it a gift. Here’s the key to the lock I’ve put on it. Off you go, go and
rescue that poor little mouse, or whatever it was that you saw.”
couldn’t help herself, she threw herself into Big Bob’s arms and hugged him
again. She said to his chest, “Thank you so much!”
Bob patted her shoulder and then moved her back. He said, “It’s wonderful to
see you looking so happy. I’ll catch up with you later.”
nodded, she could feel tears tickling her eyes. She’d done enough crying in
front of that kind man, he didn’t need to see any more. She held the key firmly
in her hand and made her way over to the unit that Big Bob had bought. The door
was now closed and secured with Big Bob’s padlock.
group of bidders had moved on to the next locker which was about ten lockers
away. Grace saw Frankie looking back over his shoulder at her, a mystified look
on his face. Grace gave him a cheery wave and then she unlocked the unit. She
pulled the door up, aware that Frankie was still looking at her. Oh, she was so
tempted to stick her tongue out at him!
walked into the unit and pulled the door halfway down behind her. If the ghost
reappeared she didn’t want anyone to see her apparently talking to herself.
quietly called out, “Hello! Are you here? I’m Grace, I ran into this locker
earlier. I can see ghosts.” A pause. “Well, I can’t see you at the moment. Can you
show yourself to me? Please? I only want to talk to you.”
heard a sob. It was coming from the same corner that she’d seen the ghost in
earlier. Grace walked towards the ghost. The corner was shimmering as if heat
were radiating out from it. Grace said, “Please show yourself. I won’t hurt
was some more shimmering, then the figure of the girl reappeared. She was still
sitting down, her arms around her knees. Tears flowed down her face.
sat next to her and smiled. “Hello, I’m Grace. Can you tell me your name?”
girl sniffed and muttered, “Abbie, Abbie Quill.”
Abbie.” Grace took in the girl’s appearance. She had long brown hair, dark
brown eyes and a pretty face. She was wearing a floaty kind of top, deep purple
in colour. Grace could make out the black leggings too, along with a pair of
sparkly purple trainers. Abbie’s arms relaxed and her knees moved away from her
body. Grace’s heart missed a bit when she saw the badge pinned to Abbie’s top.
pointed to the badge and said, “Eighteen. Is it your birthday?”
gave her a small smile. “It was my birthday. I died when I was eighteen.”
that’s so sad,” Grace said. “Can I ask how you died? If you don’t mind talking
picked at a sequin on her trainer. Ghost tears landed on the concrete floor.
She said, “I was run over.”
wished she could put her arm around her.
looked up, her face suddenly startled. “I told them to stop! I shouted at them
to stop! But they wouldn’t! They saw me and they wouldn’t stop!”
burst into fresh tears and hugged her knees again. Grace felt useless. She’d
have to speak to Abbie as calmly as she could.
I’m sorry you’re hurting. I think you’ve appeared to me for a reason. I’ve got
a difficult question to ask you, is that okay?”
nodded and buried her face into her knees.
looked up, a calm look appeared on her face. She nodded and said, “I was, I was
murdered, I know I was murdered but why? Why would they do that to me? I said
I’d keep quiet. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
asked her next question. “Do you know who killed you?”
began to shimmer. “No! Stop! I can see them! I can see the lights on the car!
They’re coming closer. Stop! Stop!”
cold breeze enveloped Grace and Abbie disappeared.
didn’t know if Abbie was still there but just invisible, or if she had gone
altogether. Either way she knew she had to get this storage unit emptied and
get the items back to the shop. It was likely that Abbie was attached to one of
the items in here.
the first time Grace looked around the unit to see what was stored here.
and more boxes. Grace stood up and opened the nearest one.
and more books.
Grace muttered. “These are going to be heavy.” She spoke to the corner where
Abbie had been sitting. “I don’t know if you can hear me but I’m going to put
these boxes in my van. And then I’m taking them back to a shop that I run with
my brother, Frankie. I’m hoping that you’re attached to something in here. If
you are, please could you try and show yourself with the correct item.”
waited. She heard a faint sob but Abbie didn’t appear. Grace said, “I’m going
to pull the van up to this unit. I won’t be long.”
rushed out of the unit and over to the van. Within minutes she had reversed the
van and was putting the first box of books into the back. She was right, the
boxes were heavy. She had a fleeting thought of asking Frankie to help her, but
she could imagine what his reply would be.
broke in to a sweat as she lifted more and more boxes. She wondered where these
boxes had come from. A charity shop that couldn’t sell them? Someone who was
downsizing? Who knew how items ended up in these storage units?
put the last box into the van. She closed the van doors and lowered the metal
door on the unit. She took Big Bob’s padlock off and pressed her lips together
as she thought about her next actions. She’d have to give this back to him.
Which meant she’d have to go and find where the crowd of bidders were. And that
meant finding Frankie.
smiled to herself. Frankie must be wondering how she’d got this locker. Had Big
Bob told him? She’d soon find out.
set off walking along the row of lockers. She could hear voices around the next
corner. As she rounded the corner she spotted Frankie. He saw her and gave her
a wave. Then he seemed to remember that he was mad with her, his hand shot down
and he shoved it into his pocket. His bottom lip stuck out and he tried to
glower at her. Grace laughed. He looked like a constipated baby. Big Bob was
standing at Frankie’s side.
made her way over to them and handed Big Bob the padlock and key. “Thanks for
the unit. I’ve packed everything into the van.”
Bob smiled and said, “You are more than welcome. And what did you do with the
dealing with it.” Grace said. Frankie had turned his back on her again. She
gave him a hard prod and said, “I’m taking the van. I’ve got some stock to put
in the shop.”
spun around. “You’re not taking the van! What am I supposed to do?”
had a few options ready, Big Bob beat her to it and said, “You can have a lift
with me, Frankie. I’ve brought a lorry with me today. See you later, Grace.
will, thanks,” Grace said and turned away.
grabbed her arm and said, “What’s going on? How did you get that locker? What’s
inside? What did Sylvester Sylver say to you?”
tugged her arm free. She gave him a satisfied smile and said, “I thought you
weren’t talking to me. See you later.”
her head held high Grace walked away from her brother. She’d explain everything
to him later, but for now, he could stew in his own sulky juices. If that was
even an expression?
few minutes later Grace started up the van. Abbie appeared at her side and gave
her a shy smile.
I’m so glad you’ve turned up again, I was beginning to worry,” Grace said.
“We’re going to my shop now, well, the one I own with my brother. We can talk
on the way.”
nodded and looked closer at Grace. “Can you drive this van? I’d be scared, it’s
drove out of the storage facility and on to the main road. “It’s not that big,
I’m used to it now. Do you drive?”
gave a humourless laugh. “No, but I’ve been trying to learn since the minute I
turned seventeen. I’ve taken my driving test three times and I still haven’t
passed. I’m such an idiot.”
frowned. She kept her eyes on the road and said, “You’re not an idiot. A lot of
people have trouble driving and it’s nothing to do with knowing speed limits
and all the other stuff. It’s to do with nerves. Let me tell you something,
Abbie. My parents died in a car accident, nearly two years ago now.”
gasped. “Oh! How awful!”
nodded. “It was, it still is. My dad was driving my car at the time, he
insisted. It was my birthday and we were going out for a meal. My car was
ruined in the crash. I couldn’t face driving for a while. I needed to start
driving again so that I could help Frankie when we bought things from these
storage units. I was scared stiff the first time I drove this van, my legs were
so wobbly! But I did it.”
looked out of the window. “You’re much braver than me. I just can’t do it.
Every time I take my driving test I fall to pieces, I can’t remember a thing. No
one understands, they think I’m stupid.”
slowed the van down and came to stop at the side of the road. She turned to
face Abbie. “I’m going to tell you something now that I’ve never told anyone